A welcome return to the cinema after a mini break sees also a welcome return by the Coen brothers with their awards-laden No Country for Old Men. Rather than the standard avenues or predictable high streets of many film efforts, the Coens’ films are like sprawling landscapes, with an unclear route through, overlapping hills on the horizon, unexpected dips, and the occasional hillock jutting up here and there. Their films often need to be seen more than once to absorb them entirely and hoover up every subtle detail (eg. Fargo, O Brother Where Art Tho, The Big Lebowski.) They’re no walk in the park, but nine times out of ten it’s worth the extra effort to break through the crust and gain the meaty film centre.
I’ve just mixed a landscape analogy with a pie analogy, but I’m sure you understand what I mean (or you can pretend to, so people think you’re dead clever like what I am). Anyway, No Country is another very Coen-like piece, its collection of weird, wonderful and down-right scary characters are inter-linked by a big bag of money (mirrored in the likes of Fargo, Lebowski et al). Quietly cool hunter Llewelyn (Josh Brolin - nailing the resourceful hero routine perfectly) stumbles across a pot of cash. Unfortunately for him, an equally quietly cool hunter Anton (Javier Bardem, like a warped toy lion with his mane patted down) would like to get the cash back, only this hunter is morally devoid and a tad insane. He also carries round a big air-gun type thing, useful for blowing locks off doors, and brains out of heads. Following the trail of bodies is wizened sheriff Ed (Tommy Lee Jones, echoing his turn in 2006’s Three Burials and sporting massive ear lobes). It could be a straight forward cat n’ mouse (and giant ear-lobed dog) escapade, but the Coens chuck in curve ball after curve ball to keep the plot fresh, and with an expanse of set pieces so large that you probably really do need to watch it all over again just to recall everything that happens.
The stand-out character is immediately Anton Chigurh. He is violence personified; unstoppable, destructive, without mercy. All the while sporting a gas canister and a bizarre hair-do. The violence is brutal without being too showy. It’s the aftermath that the Coens prefer to hone in on, and the close-up view of a shot gun wound being cleaned out is enough to make you wincingly shuffle in your seat. That’s not the only time you’ll be doing the old seat-shuffle, though. No Country is peppered with terrific scenes, with tense “waiting for the pounce” moments, gripping duels set over a myriad of corners and cars to hide behind, and a dog-v-man swimming race that’s both hilarious and also downright terrifying. Tommy Lee’s sheriff brings an aspect of calm to the proceedings, as well as some of the comedy punches that are littered throughout.
Despite the comedy, this is a dark film overall, with sombre closing thoughts (humans have always been, and will always be, violent shits to each other. Hurray!) and a running time and scope that will take some time to digest. A bit like eating a really big pie. After taking a walk through a vast landscape somewhere. You can’t do these activities off the cuff, or in your lunch hour, and they’ll most likely have an effect on you for a fair while after. But sometimes a brief stroll round the block and a quick pasty just doesn’t really satisfy.
So, to conclude: No Country has steadily risen up the CF ranks the more I’ve considered it. Powerful, thrilling and chock full of memorable performances, it has finally climbed up to a CF3. Save up the energy for a big walk / pie and go see it. Like one of those relatives you like spending time with but… oh I’ll stop with the analogies. Sorry.